CLEVELAND Jon Lester said his confidence never totally disappeared when he went nearly two months without a win.
Sure it took a beating and was a little bloodied when the Toronto Blue Jays rocked him at Fenway Park in the worst start of his career. Going a career-worst seven starts without a win would take the starch out of any elite starting pitcher thats used to achieving good results, and plenty of them.
So Sunday afternoons masterpiece of mound dominance from Lester was exactly what the doctor ordered for the 27-year-old left-hander, and the kind of vintage outing that could bring everything shooting back for him.
Jon was terrific. He had a chance at a Major League strikeout record if I left him in and he struck everybody out, said Bobby Valentine, who mercifully removed his lefty after six innings and 101 pitches. He was pitching so well and he wasnt getting any wins. Pitching well now and then getting the win? That kind of thing might just get him on a roll.
The southpaw fanned a season-high 12 Indians hitters in Bostons 14-1 drubbing of the Tribe at Progressive Field, and allowed only three hits and one earned run in a performance everybody around the Red Sox has been waiting for.
The waiting list includes, of course, Lester himself.
Its big. Its nice. I struggled a little bit early on getting into the strike zone. But then we were able to settle in and move the ball around the plate, said Lester. I had my curveball for strikes and for chase swings. You dont have that a lot of times, so it was nice to have. Well build off that.
It sounds bad but there comes a point where you have to stop worrying about your stats and just worry about keeping your team in the game. Thats what I have kind of come to since my bad one against Toronto: just keep them in the game and in striking distance. Everything else will take care of itself. Its easier said than done, but its one of those deals where I just have to pitch.
The pitcher had stopped keeping track of his own personal stats, and that seemed to be when the turnaround occurred. Over the last four starts since the 11-run debacle against Toronto, hes 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA and has fanned 29 hitters in his last 26 23 innings pitched.
The 12 strikeouts, and the rapid rise of his swing-and-miss ratio over those last four starts, is exactly what the doctor ordered to start building back Lesters mound swagger. It was against a weak Cleveland lineup on Sunday, but it was also unmistakable as two out of every three outs record was a punch-out.
I know what type of pitcher I am. I knew that my stuff was there, said Lester. I would have liked to have gone another inning or two rather than the 12 Ks, but theyre nice. Its a confidence-booster when I throw the pitches Ive been throwing all year and I get some swings and misses.
Lester had everything working against the Tribe: the mid-90s fastball, the biting curve and the cut fastball with the slider action. It all locked in after immediately being put on his heels in the first inning when handed a 3-0 lead right out of the gate courtesy of an Adrian Gonzalez home run.
Lester was faced with first-and-third with nobody out right out of the gate in the first inning, and he managed to get out of the jam while surrendering only a single run. The Sox offense brought the thunder for the rest of the game to the tune of 14 runs and 16 hits, and Lester cruised.
Getting out of that jam was just as vital a confidence-builder as the dozen strikeouts because it was those very same jams that have morphed into mushroom clouds on Lester all year-long. Its the reason why a hurler with his stuff still has a 5.20 ERA and a 6-10 record this year.
But it sounds like Lester has finally turned the corner.
Limiting damage is big. To limit them to one run in that first inning situation was exactly the kind of thing Ive been missing all year, said Lester. You need those innings wHere you get into jams and you limit them to one, or maybe two. This year its been three, four or five run rallies, so it was nice to get out with just one and allow the offense to go to work.
Time will tell whether the lefty did it soon enough to possibly get the Red Sox back into a fading playoff picture. But just having the old Lester back after a season lost at sea is good news in and of itself.